Thursday, May 14, 2020

Victory Day Celebrated in Soviet Style Not Just in Belarus but in Turkmenistan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 –Russian media have downplayed the Belarusian Victory Day commemorations because they were viewed as a provocation by Alyaksandr Lukashenka against Vladimir Putin, but they have adopted a generally more positive view of the only other former Soviet republic that held a parade as if there were no pandemic.

            That country is Turkmenistan, whose leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has consistently denied there is a pandemic ( As a result, he ordered the May 9 commemorations to follow their normal, Soviet course.

Those who welcome Ashgabat’s remaining true to that tradition celebrated what the Turkmenistan dictator did (, viewing it as confirmation of what they believe, that the Great Fatherland War unified all the Soviet peoples and celebrating it as the Soviets did could have the same effect.

In fact, everything in Ashgabat this May 9 was just like in the past, although the crowds may have been smaller because of fears of the pandemic that Berdimuhamedow says hasn’t breached the borders of the country or because of the rising tide of poverty and even hunger there ( 

Turkmenistan’s neighbor, Tajikistan, had appeared set to follow the same course, denying the pandemic and going ahead with a parade; but at the last minute, it gave in, admitted that there were cases among its people and followed Moscow in postponing the celebration (

Holding the Victory Day commemoration in Ashgabat likely will spread the coronavirus Turkmenistan’s dictator says isn’t there, just as the holding of May Day celebrations in Kyiv, ordered by Moscow shortly after Chernobyl, unnecessarily exposed thousands of Ukrainians to radiation and the diseases and premature deaths that caused.

But Berdimukhamedow has three reasons for being in denial: First, he earlier served as health minister there and can’t acknowledge in any way just how bad the medical situation is. Second, he has presented his country on this issue as well as others as an island of stability in an unsettled environment, even if that stability is purchased by a harsh authoritarian rule.

And third, he may have a point: Berdimukhamedow presides over the most closed country in the post-Soviet space. His people can’t travel and visitors are anything but welcome. Thus the channels that allow for the spread of the pandemic are mostly closed – but again at a price that has reduced Turkmenistan to being the North Korea of the region. 

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